1988: In celebration of the year 1988 in hip-hop.

Posted by Billyjam, May 9, 2008 09:06am | Post a Comment

Today I invite you to join me and others in celebrating the year 1988: a time widely considered to be the peak of the so-called "golden era" in hip-hop's relatively short history. In addition to this Amoeblog on 1988 I have also written another blog today on the same subject on WFMU's blog -- the website of the radio station where I do a weekly show entitled "Put The Needle On The Record."  And coincidentally, today's (Friday May 9th) program will be titled "1988" and will celebrate the same topic with lots of music from that year being played plus lots of discussion about that era in hip hop history.

It airs 3PM to 6PM (noon - 3PM PST) on 91.1FM and can be heard, either live or in later archives, online here. Joining me in the studio will be the hip-hop authors  Michael A Gonzales and Marcus Reeves who have also penned blogs on 1988. Read Michael's 1988 blog on his Blackadelicpop blog and another collaborator Miles Marshell Lewis' 1988 blog and scroll down to the end of this Amoeblog for links to other bloggers' 1988 essays. These will include many of the other scheduled participants in today's radio show including Bill Adler, Lisa Cortes, Todd Craig,  Serena Kim, and Steve Fleming.

For this Amoeblog on 1988 I want to make note of some of the many releases that dropped that year, mention some noteworthy events, plus include some hip-hop videos from that year. For me personally 1988 was a great year. I was a DJ on three Bay Area radio stations including KALX, where I played hip-hop and had just begun my writing career for a San Francisco newspaper. That same year I met the guys who had started a promising new magazine called The Source and by the following year I would be writing for their new hip-hop mag about Bay Area rap.  And there was lots of exciting Bay Area rap being released back in '88 -- mostly independently released cassettes and 12" singles -- including San Francisco's All Ready Fresh "2" who dropped their single "Sucker Butts," SF's Super Macks, who released the super hero themed single "Super Mack's In Effect," and Milpitas' Chris & Ray (neighbors of a young Peanut Butter Wolf) released their single "U Don't Walk U Run." There was also San Francisco's Thermo feat. The Waimea Bass, who released "Chillin' At Ocean Beach," Digital Underground, who dropped their first single "Your Life's A Cartoon"/"Underwater Rimes" on TNT/Macola, and the Vallejo group MVP (later to morph into The Click) who released an EP on Rushforce Records.

1988 was also the year Too $hort unleashed two albums of nasty rhymes on an unsuspecting rap world -- both on Jive/Zomba: Life is...Too $hort and Born To Mack which technically was a year old, having been originally released the previous year on the indie Oakland label Dangerous Music. Besides all of this great local (and still very much regionalized) Bay Area rap music, there was a ton of exciting hip-hop coming out of hot spots like (but not limited to) LA, Miami, Philly, Houston, Seattle, and of course New York City, which gave birth to the genre.  It should also be noted that 1988 was simultaneously an incredibly exciting year for house music with (mainly) UK labels licensing and releasing house records from Chicago and Detroit and other US artists. It was also the year that house and hip-hop melded to become the sub-genre of hip-house. While some hip-house hybrids were so awful they don't even qualify as guilty pleasures, there were equally as many good ones too that dropped in 1988, including the Jungle Brothers' "I'll House You" and EPMD's "I'm Housin'."  1988 was a time of experimentation with hip-hop: a year when Sinead O'Connor invited MC Lyte to collaborate with her on the single "I Want Your (Hands On Me)."  In turntablism, Cash Money won the 1988 DMC battle.

1988 was also the year that YO! MTV Raps hit the cable network's schedule, to much success. Besides this show there were a handful of local cable rap video shows. By January 2, 1989 though, with the arrival of the Arsenio Hall Show, rap fans would have another guaranteed go-to place to hear/see new rap music. Likewise, on the radio airwaves hip-hop was scarce in 1988. With the exception of KDAY in LA, which helped launch the careers of countless West Coast SoCal rappers, there wasn't any other full time rap radio. In the Bay Area the commercial station KSOL and the community station KPOO were the most adamant ambassadors of the music with such other college/high-school/community/non-commercial stations as KECG, KSZU, KALX, KFJC, KUSF and KPFA also among those who dedicated specific hours to hip-hop programming. 

Listening to hip-hop shows on the radio in 1988 guaranteed you would have heard the new releases by the likes of Boogie Down Productions, Slick Rick, JVC Force, Public Enemy, Ultramagnetic MC's, NWA, Run DMC, Eric B & Rakim, or Houston's Ghetto Boys (before they became The Geto Boys), to name but a few.  What made 1988 radio different from 2008 radio was that hip-hop was still one big happy unified family. It had yet to divide into the countless sub-genres that persist today even though it definitely had various styles and flavors back then. Perhaps the one unifying force was that rap was still an underdog, one that had yet to fully crossover and be accepted by the mainstream. In 1988 people were still talking about "the fad" of rap and many nay- sayers were still predicting its demise. Of course, hip-hop or rap (as it was still widely referred to in '88) never did die. Rather, it multiplied and took over, with Dr Dre's 1992 album The Chronic ushering in a new era, both commercially and in terms of sound, with gangsta being the prevalent genre of mainstream rap from then forward to now.

If you have any comments or memories or views on 1988, please add them in the comments box below. Meantime, be sure to check out the other blogs on 1988 coordinated with this Amoeblog. They include Michael A Gonzales, my other blog at,  Invisible Woman Blog, the black film blog here, Steve Flemming's music blog, and others to be added here as they get posted online. (Check back here for continual updates over next two days.)